Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jun 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: James Hookway
Note: Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article.


Residents Resigned To Way Hit Movie Captures Sleaze That Makes Vegas Seem Tame

BANGKOK-Thailand's tourism chief hasn't seen the Warner Bros. box
office smash "The Hangover: Part II," which is based in Bangkok.
Maybe that's just as well.

"What's it like?" asked Supol Sripan, general-director of the
country's tourism department, on a recent Thursday afternoon.

Well, it shows his nation's capital as chock-full of drug-dealing
mobsters, drunken bar fights and hazily remembered sex in the back
rooms of brothels. In the movie there are also car chases through
teeming streets, and a chain-smoking monkey.

"Hmm," Mr. Supol sighed. "Well, I suppose it's true. We have all those

The latest "Hangover" movie, a sequel to a massive 2009 hit about a
bachelor party gone wrong, has earned more than $430 million
world-wide, providing Thailand with more media exposure than it has
had or wants.

Here in Bangkok, the film is stirring up a cocktail of debate-and a
dose of morning-after embarrassment-as locals who have seen the film
come to realize how the rest of the world sees their country.

Like the first "Hangover" film, which was set in Las Vegas, the sequel
follows protagonists Stu, Phil and Alan as they try to piece together
what happened after a crazy night of booze, drugs and death-defying
danger the day before a wedding-this time, Stu's.

As "the Wolfpack" sets off on a detailed tour of Bangkok's sleazy neon
underbelly, the city is revealed to be possibly the world capital of
sin. It certainly makes Las Vegas look like Disneyland. When one key
character disappears, a surly gangster simply tells his friends,
"Bangkok has him now."

Some residents have taken to the Internet to call for the film to be
banned-alongside the old Murray Head hit "One Night in Bangkok," which
likewise focused on the seamy side of life here. (Mike Tyson performs
a version of the song in the movie.) Other Bangkokians who have seen
the film confess to mixed feelings about how it portrays their city.

"It was funny in parts, but it would be better if it wasn't set in
Thailand. We don't all work in bars," Pensri Boonkham, a 21-year-old
student, said after seeing "Hangover II."

"It doesn't present our best face to the world," added another viewer,
34-year-old Theerachai Suwan.

Others say some of the grimmer scenes involving cockroaches featured
foreign species, and surely must have been filmed on sets in the U.S.
Indeed, some scenes were. Some Thais wondered why foreign film crews
shoot films in the dingiest, most crowded parts of Bangkok where
elephants jostle for space with three-wheeler Tuk-Tuk taxis and swarms
of street vendors.

A Thai reviewer, Kong Rithdee at the Bangkok Post, described "Hangover
II" as "vulgar and stupid, cinematically, geographically and
culturally," which, to be fair, is a fairly typical reaction in the
U.S., too. Roger Ebert noted that much of the film "plays like an
anti-travelogue paid for by a rival tourist destination-Singapore,

Warner Bros. didn't immediately respond to a request for

Part of the problem here is that "Hangover II" is sharply at odds with
Thailand's own image of itself as a conservative defender of Buddhist
values, despite Bangkok's international reputation as a city of indulgence.

In recent weeks, the country's Ministry of Culture has instructed
tattoo parlors to refrain from inscribing religious images on the
bodies of foreign tourists, arguing that it demeans Thailand and the
Buddhist faith. When three teenage girls exposed their breasts during
wild celebrations for Thailand's annual Water Festival in April, there
was a national uproar despite the fact that the incident took place a
few hundred yards from Bangkok's most notorious red-light district.

At the same time, Thailand is also attempting to draw in a better-and
higher-spending-class of tourist than the usual crowd of backpackers
and pleasure-seeking male travelers by focusing its advertising
campaigns on its idyllic sandy beaches and glittering temples.

Yet the plot line of "Hangover II" may not come as a surprise to
anybody who has visited the Thai capital. Bangkok's huge commercial
sex industry is hard to miss. Large tracts of prime real estate are
occupied by sauna clubs or tawdry bars where women in bikinis dance
for ogling tourists.

"I heard Bangkok was quite wild, but I didn't realize it would be so
out there," said one recent visitor, Gavin Williams from Swansea,
Wales, who also took in a screening of "Hangover II" at a local
theater. "I just hope my mum doesn't see it," the 22-year-old said.

Some businesses here are concluding that if the rest of the world will
pay good money to see this side of Thailand on the screen, then that's
the version of Thailand they'll pitch to the rest of the world.

Already curb-side vendors are selling T-shirts emblazoned with a key
line from the film-"Holla! City of Squalor"-while Bangkok's Boon Rawd
Brewery Co. got a jump on the marketing rush by sponsoring the movie's
release with its Singha Beer. Its slogan: "The Wolfpack's Favorite

The Lebua hotel, which was featured in several scenes of the film, is
meanwhile offering $19 "Hangovertini" cocktails and $2,200 "Hangover
II" weekend packages in its luxury suites. Its three-bedroom "Hangover
Suite" can fit up to six people and, according to a brochure, "offers
a fully stocked minibar and ample space to party like the guys from
'The Hangover!'"

Now tourism chiefs and political leaders are resigning themselves to
the mixed publicity in the hope that some good will come from the
movie's huge global success.

Says government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn: "It shows that
Thailand can host a film production like this. Hopefully many more
different kinds of films will be shot here."

- - Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article.
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